We say that a good specimen of an oak tree is an oak tree that is flourishing. In the same way it could be argued that a good society is one in which people flourish in the sense of leading desirable, productive and thriving lives.
What or Who is Flourishing?
According to Keyes (2002) the concept of a flourishing individual is that of a person who is contented, productive, well integrated emotionally and socially, with a sense of purpose and optimism. Thus, to qualify as flourishing, it is not enough that a life contains happiness or accomplishment. Therefore, it could be argued that flourishing needs to self-directed on the ground that each life contains its own coherent principle of normativity that demands enactment. Self-directed activities are seen as intrinsically satisfying because they are more self-engaging and self-fulfilling than imposed activities. Further, we need to consider that flourishing is associated with people who feel in control of their own lives.
Cultivated Over a Lifetime
For people to lead truly flourishing lives they need to feel they are personally satisfied and developing, as well as functioning positively in regard to society. It is not simply about personal achievements, our ability to flourish resides not simply in ourselves, but in our relations to the environment, to other people, the sort of society we live in, and so on. Unfortunately, too many people are instead languishing – living unhappy, unfulfilled lives as well as lacking social and community engagement. Flourishing is something that needs to be cultivated and nourished over the course of a lifetime.
Physical Literacy represents one of the key components that can enhance one’s wellbeing and enable a person to flourish. There is strong physiological and psychological evidence that regular participation in purposeful physical activity can have a significant positive impact on holistic health and wellbeing. It is this positive impact that has the power to contribute to our wellbeing and therefore enable us to flourish in a number of ways.
Wellbeing is associated with feeling good as well as actually having meaning in one’s life, positive emotions, good relationships, engagement and accomplishing something worthwhile. It is much more than simply life satisfaction. We also need to recognise that our wellbeing depends a great deal on how others behave towards us therefore good relationships need to be associated with our innate capacity for empathy which enables us to have rewarding relationships. It needs to be recognised that people’s values will also determine their preferred choices about what to do and what can enhance their wellbeing.
The Good Life
This brings me to another aspect that needs to address – the role of Physical Literacy and its contribution to a life worth living. Kekes (2011, 2008) argues that what makes life worth living is enjoyment. but there is much more to a good life than enjoyment. We may enjoy our life as a whole because it is filled with many enjoyable episodes and activities but lack a coherence and could be seen as short-term distractions that we do not care about deeply enough. However, to enjoy one’s life is to be “pleased, delighted and satisfied with it; to live with relish, to savour and take pleasure especially in parts of it we regard as important and to want the life to continue by and large in the way that it is going” (Kekes, 2011, p.74). Physical Literacy abounds with opportunities that have the potential for enjoyment in the sense that Kekes argues for.
For Kekes (2011, 2008), this means that the most important thing we can do is to live in a way that reflects what we most deeply care about. This involves what he calls a basic commitment. A basic commitment becomes a standard “by which we evaluate what we do, distinguish between available possibilities of life on the basis of whether we regard them as good, bad or indifferent, better, worse or neutral; important, unimportant or middling” (Kekes 2011, p.75).
Commitment to Physical Activity
There are a great variety of basic commitments, and because part of a good life is engagement in some activity that truly expresses what we most deeply care about, the promotion of Physical Literacy needs to address this role. How can we link Physical Literacy with becoming a basic commitment that inspires, engages our attention and stimulates participation in purposeful physical activity that we value so that we come to care about it deeply? The key is to find out whether our basic commitment to Physical Literacy is realistic and coherent. If we have can discover what matters to us most through an exploration of Physical Literacy, we need practitioners with the professional and educational skills to cultivate, nurture and help people to cherish their sense of vitality, dynamism, energy and wellbeing in the context of purposeful physical activity and avoid squandering them.
If we are to be successful in promoting flourishing, we can help people to develop a basic commitment to live in a way that reflects and nurtures it. Engagement in physical activity is essential if individuals are to flourish. Therefore, we need engender a disposition where individuals care deeply about it which stimulates further involvement. This is the real challenge to Physical Literacy; how do we nurture such a commitment so that individuals come to care deeply about engagement physical activity? Finally, we also need to learn how to recognise the illusions that can detract us from developing an informed and intelligent vision of how we can flourish that enhances our wellbeing and enables us to enjoy the satisfactions that Physical Literacy can bring.
- Kekes, J. (2011) What matters most? The philosophers’ magazine. 2nd Quarter 2011.
- Kekes, J. (2008) Enjoyment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Keyes, C. L. M. (2002) The mental health continuum: from languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Society Research. 43:207-22